The Pasifika Scholars Institute is an intensive program with specific aims to increase matriculation of Pacific Islander students to the University with keen attention to the educational pathways. The program was largely designed by Dr. Kehaulani Vaughn, faculty in the Education, Culture, and Society and Faculty Advisor to the program. As part of the larger Pacific Islands Studies Initiative, this Institute aims to increase students’ knowledge of retention services and programs at the University of Utah; increase students’ knowledge of Pacific Islander faculty, staff, and community members; and develop students’ self-awareness and confidence. Centering Pacific Islander cultural and its relevance for their educational success, students’ develop leadership knowledge and skills in order to boost academic success and participation at the U.

The first iteration of the Institute took place in the summer of 2019. While student feedback made it clear that participation was transformational, Dr. Vaughn and Moana decided that engagement throughout the year was important in order to build sustainable pathways. “Although the intensive week in the summer allows us to demystify higher education and highlight current Pacific Islander staff, faculty, and community engaged research, we realized that it was necessary to keep in continual contact with our scholars,” said Dr. Vaughn. And so, the planning committee decided that the Institute would include yearlong programming to promote the program and also serve as check-ins with previous participants thereby creating a larger community of scholars. 

What they could not imagine then, was that a worldwide pandemic would come into play.

As most things this 2020, the Pasifika Scholars Institute Bridge has shifted to be delivered fully-online. It is no surprise that Zoom quickly became an essential tool for the execution of the program- as were Canvas, social media and YouTube. The entire summer intensive portion of the Bridge was delivered virtually. “We are finding that going online has many benefits that we were not necessarily seeking. For example, it’s easier to record our panels and seminars. We have been streaming our fall webinars on social media, then uploading the recordings on our YouTube Channel, Pasifika Archive. This has made our events accessible to participants who were not able to attend live. We are reaching more scholars, but also members of their families and their communities. And we know of the importance for our communities to be a part of our educational access journeys.”

This fall’s seminar topics included: Voting in the time of Coronavirus; Listening and Healing in the Time of Coronavirus; U of U Resources; and a Signature seminar with Dr. Tevita O. Ka’ili, professor of Cultural Anthropology and Dean of the Faculty of Culture, Language and Performance Arts at BYU, Hawai’i and University of Utah alumni. Please check out this spring events, which includes the Pasifika Scholars Graduate Institute that was created to help Pasifika students interested in attending graduate and/or professional school. Follow them on social media at: To stay informed of upcoming events through the Pacific Islands Studies Initiative, follow their Facebook page here, and their Instagram account @uofupasifikascholars. You may watch past seminars on the YouTube channel, The Pasifika Archive